What better way to start a new life together than to plan a super chic and eco-friendly zero waste wedding celebration? Look good, have fun, and protect the planet at the same time!
Your wedding celebration is a great opportunity to show your friends and family the values that you live by and perhaps even inspire a little change in them as well.
There are 2.5 million weddings in the U.S. every year so every little green tweak we can make (possibly compounded 2.5 million times!) will definitely make an impact. So if this complete green wedding checklist is helpful for you, please do share with all your to-be brides and grooms.
Luckily, more and more people are looking to plan eco-friendly weddings because they care about the planet. Gone are the days when people were impressed with the flashy and glitzy; the disposable culture and excess waste.
In recent years, we are observing a trend towards simplicity, sustainability, living your values, ethical consumption, and taking inspiration from nature.
All of this combines to form a timeless elegance that money just cannot buy.
If you’re interested in learning how you can incorporate more eco-friendly wedding ideas, here are some ideas for key steps in the green wedding planning process.
What is an Eco-Friendly Wedding?
An eco-friendly wedding is one that seeks to minimize the environmental toll of every aspect of the wedding planning process.
Whether you’re focusing on having a zero-waste wedding, trying to source all of your supplies locally, renting anything and everything, or keeping food vegan-based, there are so many ways to be more eco-friendly depending on what’s important to you!
As you go through this list, there may be some suggestions that don’t work for your situation and that’s completely fine! Perfection is not the goal! The planet will appreciate every single eco-friendly wedding swap you make for your special day.
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Eco-Friendly Wedding Invitations
Traditionally, a wedding uses a lot of printed material, in part to convey important information, but mostly because of tradition; simply because “that’s how it has always been done”.
Well, let’s be pioneers and do things differently!
From save-the-dates to invitation & response cards; from menus to programs; from thank-you notes to table place cards, we can opt for an eco-friendly at every single step.
For now, let’s focus on ideas for eco-friendly wedding invitations. Wedding invitations are a two-part process.
First, we send the save-the-dates way in advance of the wedding so guests have time to block their calendars and schedule their trip. These can easily be sent via email. Paperless Post has a TON of beautiful save-the-date templates to choose from. These are some of my favorites:
These are all pre-designed templates that you can use to send via email instead of snail mail. Besides saving on carbon emissions from not having to ship a postcard across the country (or around the world), it’s also less stressful.
In this time period, you’re more likely to having someone’s email address instead of their physical address. People are also more likely to change their physical address than their email address.
Even if you do have the correct physical address, you have no way of verifying that they actually received your save-the-date. What if it got lost on its way there? What if it accidentally gets tossed out as junk mail? How awful to realize that someone didn’t receive a save-the-date until it was too late for them to book a flight to your wedding!
With electronic save-the-dates, you can also track if your intended recipient actually read and received your email. One thing off your mind when there feels like a zillion things to address in planning your wedding!
As you might have guessed, you can also send wedding invitations through email as well. Many more people opt for emailed save-the-dates and paper invitations, but you can make the decision for yourself. There are also some beautifully designed formal wedding invitations.
If it’s important to you to send by standard mail, consider paper made from 100% post-consumer content (i.e., recycled material) and choose plant-based inks. If you do send your wedding invitations by mail, you can also minimize paper usage and weight in by minimizing the information on the invitation. Simply direct guests to your wedding website for further information.
A registry is a popular way for the couple to share a wish list for guests wanting to celebrate their marriage with a gift. Be deliberate with what you add to your list. Chances are you and your partner are already living together so have everything that you should need. Just because you CAN add that fancy new dining set, new 1,000 thread count bed sheets, decorative throw pillows, a salad spinner, and a banana slicer on your list doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Take stock of what you already own and whether your current items serve their purpose. Once you do, add only the things you actually need, as opposed to things that you want.
For everything that you add to your list, identify a space for it in your home at that moment. If you can’t think of where you’ll put that pressure cooker on your list, it means you won’t have a place to store it when you get it – remove it from the list! By pre-planning where everything will you, you make sure only to include things that you need and for which you have space. And you’ll get exactly what you want!
The worst feeling in the world must be to receive a mountain of gifts only to realize that you didn’t get gifted the three things you REALLY wanted, but instead, got 15 other things that you only sort of wanted.
Start adding things to your registry NOW so you can add everything that you think you want. Then, go back through it with a more critical eye and cut and remove ruthlessly before you share the list with your wedding guests to end up with the perfect list.
You don’t need to add hundreds of items to your list for the sake of giving people options on what to gift you. If you’d rather have money but don’t feel comfortable asking for it, here are some ideas for how you can ask for it in a more “discreet” manner:
- Donation in your name to your favorite non-profit organization
- Fund your honeymoon
- Help fund a Tesla Model 3
Be creative. If you don’t need more than what you already have, a monetary gift is a gift that keeps on giving, assuming it pays you interest 😉
Eco-Friendly Party Favors
At the end of the wedding celebration, guests may be given party favors to thank them for coming and leave them with a parting gift. This is a social convention that I adamantly believe needs to go away. No one wants a refrigerator magnet commemorating the day you got married. No one wants to use fancy wine glasses embossed with names that are not theirs and do not match any of their other glassware.
If you insist on party favors, fight the urge to personalize them with your names and date. Green wedding ideas for party favors are simple gifts that can be consumed, used or repurposed. My favorites include baked goods or other snacks in Mason jars, scented soy candles in your wedding’s colors, or beautiful locally crafted soaps.
Alternatively, you can indicate that instead of party favors, a donation has is being made in the guests’ honor to your favorite non-profit organization!
Flowers & Centerpieces
To Consider When Buying Flowers
When searching for flowers, try to look for and consider three things:
Organic flowers grow without bee-killing, ozone-depleting pesticides and other environment-harming chemicals that are also a danger to workers’ health. Without being able to rely on pesticides, organic farmers need to care for their land and keep it sustainable for years to come.
Some flowers have specific growing seasons, which means if you’ve set your heart on sunflowers, but your wedding isn’t in the summer or late fall, they will have to be flown in from somewhere else. This transport results in emissions and increases costs. Where and when possible, it’s best to choose local.
You may see flowers certified as Veriflora® Sustainably Grown – an international program to certify sustainably grown flowers that minimize its environmental impact, supports worker safety and fairness, and are healthy and high-quality products.
Giving Flowers a Second Life
If you want to save money and still have beautiful flower decorations, consider giving someone else’s flowers a second life at your wedding.
Bloomerent matches prior event’s centerpieces to your preferences. If there’s a match, you can save 40-60% off regular prices. Alternatively, you can list your centerpieces on the site to give your flowers a second life, plus, if there’s a match, you receive 10% of the sale price.
If you have flower centerpieces, again, try to find organic, in-season, and local. Or get paired up with another event via Bloomerent.
For non-flower ideas, try your hand at DIY. Take a look through these Pinterest ideas for inspiration. Centerpieces can be as simple as empty vases filled for foraged pinecones, leaves, and wildflowers. Or they can be as elaborate as professionally arranged flowers stacked to the ceiling.
I always find that simple, minimalist designs are the most elegant, and eco-friendly. It also allows guests at the same table, sitting on opposite sides, to actually see each other – what an idea!
For green weddings, try to source things second-hand like from Bravo Bride, a marketplace website to match gently used wedding decor and clothing with those who are planning their wedding, or eBay is always handy for second-hand items. Similar to living a zero-waste lifestyle, if you’re planning a zero waste wedding, second-hand sources will be bookmarked and checked often.
With 2.5 million brides in the U.S. every year, a lot of wedding dresses get made to be worn only once. On top of the fact that the fashion industry is notorious for the amount of textile waste they produce.
Instead of perpetuating this cycle of a one-time-use dress, consider buying second-hand or renting. It’s a lot more eco-friendly by not having to manufacture a brand new dress and can save you a lot of money. The Knot provides a good list of online places where you can buy second-hand or rent wedding dresses. One other good resource not included in their list is the Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses website.
If you can’t find your dream dress second-hand or for rent, consider purchasing a dress made of sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, hemp silk, peace silk, or bamboo.
Pick a color and style (i.e., floor-length, or cocktail), not a specific dress. This way, your bridesmaids are more likely to re-use the dress or be able to rent a dress that satisfies your criteria.
As a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this July, I was beyond grateful that she simply asked for a floor-length navy blue dress. Imagine if she had asked all of us bridesmaids to purchase this exact dress. I would probably never wear it again. How often does one wear a floor-length dress? This would probably have ended up being a one-time-use dress like a wedding dress.
Luckily, she simply asked for the two criteria (length and color), and I was able to rent a dress from Rent the Runway at 20% of the retail price. At the same time, I’m pretty confident that the dress I rented will have a long and well-used life, much more.
For a limited time, new customers will receive $30 off the first rental at Rent the Runway. There are no subscription fees, no hidden fees, and no strings attached. They just know that once you try the service, you’ll love the convenience, selection, and fair prices.
As you can probably tell, based on my lifestyle, I am a big fan of the rapidly growing sharing economy!
On your wedding day, everyone wants to please the bridal couple, and especially the bride. Take advantage of this and at the beginning of the event, announce your wish for a green wedding and ask your guests to help make this wish a reality. At this point, you can mention a few eco-friendly wedding ideas you learned about and the ones you chose to integrate. This, in turn, may inspire others to follow suit in their own weddings to come.
Additionally, this would be a great time to explain the various waste streams you’ll be collecting: i) recyclable paper, ii) recyclable plastics, iii) compost, and iv) landfill waste. Hopefully, this will be educational and bring the idea of waste to the forefront of guests’ minds when they return to their own homes, plus, it will help you achieve your goal of a green wedding.
Instead of printing individual program pamphlets for every single guest (plus extra for those who take more than one), display a single giant sign towards the entrance with the schedule and ask people to take a photo of it to refer to it as necessary. For the older, less tech-savvy generation, you can print out a few for them.
For the giant sign, see if you can rent a letter board. Alternatively, you can hire someone to design a cute chalkboard sign for you!
Eco-Friendly Wedding Send Off Ideas
You’ve shared your vows and said your “I dos”. Now it’s time to walk off in celebration. During this time, people LOVE to throw things in the air. Here are some great eco-friendly wedding send-off ideas for you to consider:
- Paper confetti
- Flower petals
- Dried lavender
- Foraged leaves – backyard, surrounding gardens [source local]
- Paper airplanes – pro tip: use cute origami paper!
- Bird seeds – contact a garden or nursery nearby for recommendations and find seeds local to your area
- Rent a snowmachine for artificially-made snow (artificially-made REAL snow; not artificial plastic snow)
- Biodegradable glitter (not the best, but some people love glitter and this is a good alternative to micro-plastics glitter)
I would recommend you avoid normal glitter, glow sticks, pompoms, lantern releases, balloon releases, or bubbles. Basically. You would ideally avoid anything that requires disposable plastics, and especially those plastics that cannot be collected and disposed of (balloons and glitter are a huge no-no!).
Try to keep the wedding venue in or near your hometown, or wherever most of your family and friends reside. A destination wedding may seem unique, but it has an immense toll on the environment from all the guests having to travel to the destination.
Choose a reception venue that is walking distance from the wedding venue, or rent a giant party bus to shuttle everyone there. Not only is it more fun because people don’t have to split up or stop the celebrations, but it’s also more eco-friendly compared to each guest having to take separate cars. Plus, everyone won’t have to drive around looking for parking or worrying about when to refill their parking meter.
When looking for a food vendor that accommodates to your venue, choose one that can offer actual tableware, silverware, and cloth napkins. It presents better, and you can avoid disposables. If you’re on a budget and need to use disposables, try to find the most eco-friendly ones for your situation. This means if you hire a compost service, use biodegradable disposables (I prefer recycled paper over bioplastics).
If you don’t have a compost service but have recycling, avoid bio-plastic disposables (they are non-recyclable) and opt for recyclable plastics. If you don’t have either, try to find disposables made from post-consumer content (i.e., made from recycled materials).
As with flowers, if you’re looking for the most eco-friendly food option, choose organic, local, and in-season. Perhaps avoid hors d’oeuvre as they generate lots of waste. Either they’re held together with some type of disposable item (i.e., toothpick, wrappers), or it’s finger-food where you’re offered a new napkin with every small bite!
Vegan and vegetarian food is nearly always more eco-friendly than offering meat dishes so try to offer at least one option. If you’re vegan yourself, don’t be afraid to choose an all-vegan menu. It’s your day – it’s your party. For people with the unfounded fear that they will lose all their muscle if they don’t eat meat one day, perhaps don’t invite them…! =D
If you think you may have extra food at the end of your reception, contact nearby charities or animal shelters to see if they will accept untouched food. [footnote]This is based on what I read online, but I haven’t yet contacted any to verify.[/footnote]
If you use proper glasses for drinks, the biggest thing you have to figure out is how to avoid straws and “drink stirrers.” Why do people need to swish the ice around in their cup anyways?! Perhaps have the bartender offer drinks without the straw, but have paper straws available upon (insistent) requests. Or if your caterer offers reusable straws, even better!
If you are serving a lot of wine and beer, consider searching for it on tap, available in bulk sizes. For example, for weddings near San Diego, check out the awesome Tap Truck service where they can offer guests beer, wine, cider and more on tap from a line-up of awesome retrofitted trucks.
I don’t usually drink alcohol so when I was starting to plan my own wedding, I fell in love with the idea of a DIY Italian soda station. At the station, you could have a sparkling water dispenser and various syrup options for guests to create your own Italian sodas. Check out some ideas on Pinterest.
In all the recent weddings I’ve attended, the bride and groom would stay on the dance floor until the very end, so I don’t have much experience with formal exits. I’ve seen many photos of sparklers creating a beautiful effect for night time exits. However, they are not the most eco-friendly.
Even though sparklers are crafted with steel, they’re not recyclable due to the number of oxidizers and fuel coating it to cause the fiery display. Bamboo sparklers are not recyclable either, but at least they are made of more sustainable materials. If you can find some high-quality bamboo sparklers that will burn cleanly (little smoke), that would be nice.
If you decide to forego the sparklers, you can always formally exit with some eco-friendly ideas from the ‘Send-Off’ section!
Your first trip as a married couple and an amazing opportunity to spend quality time with your partner after the high of wedding celebrations. For an eco-friendly honeymoon, consider staying local and pampering yourself with fancy meals and spa treatments. Or immerse yourself in the beauty of a nearby national park.
Alternatively, if you do fly somewhere exotic for your honeymoon, continue living with your eco-friendly lifestyle in mind as much as possible.
Green Wedding Ideas to Consider
As you can see, there is no one master list of green wedding ideas for you to implement. Every couple’s situation is different; every couple’s interests and preferences are different. All I hope to do is raise awareness about the various eco-friendly wedding ideas that I’ve seen. Take a few of these options and have an amazing green wedding celebration.
I hope you do choose to implement some of these ideas, but if you don’t, I would still like to congratulate you on finding your love and hope you have a fun wedding and a happy ever after.